It only makes sense that there would be demand for anime and manga centered around food. With the sheer diversity of topics that manga touches upon and considering how much eating is just a fundamental part of being a human, it would be bizarre if there were not some manga about food. And make no mistake there have been plenty of series about food and cooking from Mister Ajikko to Ristorante Paradiso. Some are extremely mundane like Sweetness and Lightning but you also have the crazy over the top antics of Yakitate!! Japan. You even have the ultra-macho Iron Wok Jan as well as the soft and gentle Yumeiro Patissiere. But recently I feel there has been an increase in the number of food-related manga being adapted into anime. Our recent New Shows for Older Fans panel had four food-based shows on the list and Crunchyroll recently started a Cooking With Anime column. So cooking manga has always been around but it has gotten a bit of a bump thanks to some higher profile anime.
Therefore I wanted to talk a bit about Restaurant to Another World this month. I feel it is an exciting mixture of many of the extremes of food manga. It is fairly fantastical while still feeling pretty grounded. A nice medium between the poles of Oishinbo and Toriko. The base of an Iyashikei series like Bartender with the fantasy spice of Delicious in Dungeon.
In Tokyo, there is an unassuming little restaurant named the Western Restaurant Nekoya that serves its Japanese patrons foreign food six days a week. Every Saturday the restaurant seems closed to the outside but inside a door opens connecting it to various places in a Tolkienesque fantasy world. Anyone who enters the doors in this fantasy world can sample the foods from modern-day Earth. The restaurant is the hub that connects the connected stories of patrons and staff of both worlds.
The heart of the manga is the kindly Master who inherited the restaurant from his grandfather and Aletta the disadvantaged demon girl who he hires as a waitress. They are the two main characters who the story centers around. Their comfortable working relationship is the backbone of the series. Interestingly enough they don’t have a romantic relationship but they have a more formal bond of a generous boss and a hard-working employee. This gives the story more time to focus on the stories of the patrons, their fascinating places of origin, and their delicious meals.
The cast then expands out with a regular set of patrons. These are the characters who are most often seen in the background of the restaurant in other people’s stories. As the series goes on characters begins to interact inside and outside of the Nekoya letting the reader explore the characters they already know in greater detail while getting a better insight into the world they come from.
Take for example Faldania. She is an elf that stumbles into the cafe who has a very strict vegan diet like the rest of her people. She expects a restaurant to have the normal fare that human establishments would have. When she finds that the Tofu steak severed at the Nekoya is as good if not better than anything she has eaten from an Elvin chef she leaves her small home village to explore the world and invent vegan cuisine to surpass the Master’s cooking. After that point she runs into other patrons of the Nekoya and invites people she meets on her journey to sample the food of the other world.
Another time one story involves a shipwrecked sailor whose only tie to other people is the Restaurant. After he is saved and brought back to civilization a pair of siren siblings who find his old island home use his notes he wrote while a castaway to visit the restaurant. Each time the live of the customers intersect the story neatly expands the history of the fantasy world without long expositions dumps.
Of course I could not do this whole Manga of the Month and not describe the food. It is just as important as the characters and the setting. Being a Western Restaurant the menu is quite diverse with dishes from all over the world although the menu is a little more titled towards the Japanese impression of Western food than an extremely obscure culinary guide. Expect more Chicken Curry and Carpaccio than Fufu and Stroopwafel.
The real star is the combination of the visuals and the descriptions. The dishes look wonderful and like any great food manga the mouth-watering descriptions are what really sells the experience. The detailed experiences of the taste and texture of the food mixed with the customers joy when eating really makes it that you can almost smell what they are eating. You need that visceral connection to the meals for everything to come together.
If you have been watching the anime there are some differences to make reading the manga worth your while. First of all the stories occur in a different order in the anime and manga. The first episode of the anime introduces the Red Queen and then Aletta whereas the manga starts with Sarah Gold and then moves on to Aletta. From there the patrons continue to be introduced at their own pace in both mediums. It is not a huge change but it means certain bits of world building get traded from one story to another. Also blocks of exposition and world building seem to shift a bit as well.
The bigger and more interesting difference is that the restaurant always just seems so much more busy in the manga. I get the feeling that to save on costs in the anime they only draws the characters they absolutely need for the episode and maybe one or two additional patrons for color. In the manga it is almost always a full house unless it is a plot detail. This really makes the place feel like a grand meeting point for people from all over the fantasy world. Part D&D Adventurer’s Inn and part otherworldly Cheers. I get impression this is closer to the vibe of the resturant in the original novels.
If you’re looking for a foodie series with an interesting twist, a healing manga with a little more energy, or a fantasy world with a little less murder and mayhem then you might want to check out Restaurant to Another World. Just be warned like any good story about food you should never read it on an empty stomach.